Saturday, September 3, 2016

Check out this report on Cuban digital media

Anne Nelson has written a report entitled Cuba’s Parallel Worlds: Digital Media Crosses the Divide. It is based on her earlier work in Cuba and a subsequent graduate seminar and field work in Cuba. The report is organized as follows:
  • Cuba’s Traditional Media
  • The Fiber Optic Cable: Cuba’s Big Little Bang
  • China’s Role
  • Enter the Americans
  • Who Makes Cuba’s Digital Policy?
  • Cuba’s Hacker Culture
  • Conclusion
The following are a few quotes that caught my eye:
  • "Cuba’s landlines, print culture, and broadcasting market have not only failed to advance beyond the mid-twentieth century standards, they have actually eroded."
  • "Cuba’s decades of news blackout will have a dramatic impact on the shape of the information culture in Cuba. It is entirely possible that Cuba could skip over the fact-based journalism models of the late twentieth century, straight into a digital maelstrom of rumor, data, marketing — and, somewhere amid the tumult—news." (See also William Davies' "post-truth news").
  • "Even as the regime’s controls appear to be loosening, its members have positioned themselves, their relations, and their supporters to reap the benefits." (This sounds a bit like the Russian transition -- Estonia provides a better model).
  • "Cuba has many features that make it an effective laboratory for ICT4D innovations: a highly literate, educated workforce; a manageable geography; and the urgent incentive of a broken system."
  • "We should not discount what the Cubans have to offer. Vast regions of Africa, Asia and Latin America struggle with erratic electrical grids and low bandwidth. The Cubans’ ingenious approach to offline apps might suggest solutions in these areas, just as Cuban doctors have proved helpful in low-resourced medical emergencies."
The report also shines a little light on the obscure production and distribution processes of El Paquete Semanal:
The production of the service is somewhat secretive. According to the Columbia research team, the content is downloaded by small teams across Cuba that receive passwords and usernames from the “Paquete owners,” who then pay to download content by the hour. The local managers download the content that will appeal to their specific audiences; university students might want to read the week’s New York Times, the Economist, and the BBC, while rural audiences might prefer South American telenovelas and variety shows. Most local managers download the content directly from the Internet, then copy and distribute it to a larger network that dispatches couriers to deliver it by public bus throughout the country. Customers pay around $2 to download the material to external disks and flash drives, often plugging them directly into a port on their flat screens; then returning for new content.
It also includes the following diagram, summarizing ETECSA's monopoly over all telephony and fixed and mobile Internet access:

My one question on the diagram has to do with the often quoted statement that ETECSA is entirely state owned. I am confused on the relationship of the state to the ETECSA stockholders and the division of decision making authority between ETECSA and the Ministry of Communication.

This post is the tip of the iceberg -- you should read the full report.

In addition to their field work, Nelson's students also compiled a project wiki, which is informative and also serves as a cool example of the use of the Internet for collaboration in education.

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